Schumacher: Wendy Davis’ campaign in Texas forecasts change for Midwest

politics

Back in June, an unheard-of state senator in Texas took to the floor of the state house to filibuster a bill that would cripple abortion rights in her state. She stood and spoke for 11 hours, gaining attention on social media and applause from liberals around the country for her efforts. While her fight against the bill ultimately failed, activists and spectators around the country became aware of Wendy Davis. More recently, she is said to have informed leading Democrats that she intends to run for governor in 2014.

As of now, the odds are against her. Texas has elected Republican governors by overwhelming margins in the past five gubernatorial elections. Other prominent Democrats in the state, like San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, have already ruled out a 2014 run. In spite of these hurdles, Davis’ candidacy should not be taken lightly. In fact, it’s easy to see her notoriety and imminent campaign as reflections of a greater movement toward progressive values.

Davis is best known as a staunch proponent of access to reproductive health care — a Supreme Court-guaranteed right that has come under assault in a handful of red states, including Kansas. Republican-led legislatures and governors have enacted laws that restrict the time window for getting an abortion, place unreasonable standards on close medical facilities that offer birth control services and in some cases make it harder for women (or men) to obtain contraceptives. With her willingness to challenge this trend in such a Republican state, Davis sent a strong message: women’s rights proponents are ready to fight tooth-and-nail, even on heavily conservative turf.

But reproductive rights aren’t the only area where Davis boasts strong common-sense credentials. In 2011, she also filibustered a bill that would cut $4 billion from Texas public schools, and has been critical of recent cuts to education and health care funding. Environment Texas, a group that rates lawmakers’ positions on renewable energy, climate change and conservation efforts, gave her a 100 percent rating in 2011. On the flip side of this, the far-right National Rifle Association has awarded her a lifetime grade of F.

Conservative leaders across the country are also seeing significant blowback for a plethora of unpopular policies, which include the defunding of public education, decreasing access to health care services and so-called voter ID laws that unfairly target minorities and the young. Here in Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican legislature face high disapproval numbers, due in part to the decision to cut education funding while extending tax breaks for large corporations. Republican governors in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, to name only a few states, face similar resistance. Citizens across the country are beginning to voice their distaste and outrage over the Tea Party conservative agenda, and this is where Wendy Davis and other progressives have a great opportunity.

But for all this, there is one aspect of the Davis candidacy that stands above all the rest: location. As the nation’s second-largest and among the fastest growing states, Texas’s political importance can’t be overstated. The deeply Republican state also has a huge incarceration rate and high numbers of uninsured residents, but is considered a haven for businesses seeking low taxes and little regulation. If a Democrat won the governor’s mansion 13 months from now, there’s no telling how big the impact on the country’s political future would be. Republicans nationwide would be mortified while Democrats would be galvanized. There’s little doubt that ramifications would be felt here in Kansas. But that’s getting ahead of the moment. Wendy Davis faces a grueling path to winning next year, and to say her chances are good would be dubious. But the message is clear: win or lose, progressives are ready to fight.

  • Updated Oct. 2, 2013 at 11:58 pm
  • Nathaniel Harper

    The location is also important in another very important way which is the rapidly changing electorate. In particular the Latino community, which has largely been snubbed by the GOP, will certainly have a tangible impact on the election.